Bridgend: the antidepressant factor

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In May 2012, an article in People magazine reported that between January 2007 and February 2012, 79 people in the Bridgend area of South Wales had taken their own lives by hanging. PhilipWalters2Most of the victims were young adults, but many of them were teenagers. Coroner Philip Walters (left) speculated that an Internet-based suicide cult was to blame, although police found no evidence to link the cases together.

MadeleineMoonIn February 2008, the parents of one of the young victims accused the media of “glamorising ways of taking one’s life to young people”, while Madeleine Moon (right), MP for Bridgend, said that the media were “now part of the problem.” Later, the Police asked the media to stop covering the deaths in an attempt to prevent what they referred to as “copycat suicides”.

In March 2009, Carole Cadwalladr wrote a detailed article for the Guardian in which she stated that “now that the media furore has died down, so have the deaths.”

HealyShutUpFrom my database of inquests, I found 10 hangings in the Bridgend area between 2007 and 2011 where antidepressants were involved. These are mentioned by Professor David Healy (left) in his excellent article: Left Hanging: Suicide in Bridgend. It was only when I studied these 9 inquests more closely that I discovered something extraordinary.

LeighJenkins1Leigh Jenkins (22) (right) was one of 5 suicide victims whose inquests were heard in one day by coroner Philip Walters, during which Mr Walters appealed for a national suicide strategy. Leigh’s mother told the inquest that he had been “prescribed medication for depression.” Mr Walters was more interested in the alcohol and amphetamines in Leigh’s system, and “recorded the short narrative verdict after saying the drugs Mr Jenkins had taken would have highly affected his judgment.”

LiamClarkeThe mother of 20 year-old Liam Clarke (left) “told the inquest that her son had been prescribed medication for depression and would become aggressive whenever he forgot to take his tablets.” Coroner Philip Walters made no mention of his medication when he “recorded a narrative verdict that Mr Clarke killed himself while under the influence of drink.” (Medical experts will tell you that antidepressants can induce a craving for alcohol, and can exacerbate the effects of alcohol).

SeanReesIn the inquest of 19-year-old Sean Rees (right), the pathologist named the tricyclic anti-depressant Lofepramine as one of the drugs in his system when he hanged himself. Coroner Peter Maddox said that “I would say the alcohol was the main component on his mood or judgement” before delivering an open verdict.

Craig Evans was 25 when he was found hanged in his house. The report does not tell us who provided the information that “he was given antidepressants”. The report concludes: “Toxicology results showed his prescribed drugs and a substantial amount of alcohol in his system. The cause of death was noted as asphyxia as a consequence of hanging, and assistant deputy coroner Wayne Griffiths for Bridgend and the Valleys recorded a narrative verdict.”

In March 2010, an inquest heard that 18 year-old Angeline “Angie” Fuller (left) hanged herself after a row with her boyfriend. Angie had a history of depression and had made two previous suicide attempts. She had received “treatment” in a clinic, presumably with antidepressants. Mr Maddox recorded a narrative verdict that Angeline hanged herself, but said her intention could not be determined.

In September 2010, at the inquest of 40 year-old carpenter Paul Harris, it was the Police report that mentioned that he was on antidepressants. A postmortem report “concluded that the cause of Paul’s death was hanging, and stated that no alcohol or drugs were found in his system.” (In an inquest, it is common for ‘drugs’ to mean illicit or recreational drugs).

PeterMaddoxMr Maddox (right) delivered a verdict of suicide, ignoring the presence of antidepressants when he told the court: “There was nothing in Paul’s system which may have affected his judgement. The circumstances in which he was found obviously leads me to a verdict of him taking his own life.”

The following month, in October 2010, Mr Maddox presided over the inquest of accountant Gareth Williams. Mrs Williams told the inquest that her husband had been prescribed antidepressants for work-based anxiety. In her statement she said: “This was so out of character. We were financially comfortable and our relationship was good.”

The report concludes: “Coroner Peter Maddox said a postmortem revealed a small amount of alcohol and prescribed medication in Mr Williams’ system, but neither amounts were sufficient to affect judgement.”(A therapeutic amount of an antidepressant is easily enough to induce suicidal thoughts).

Just 5 days later, the inquest of 17 year-old Robert Scott Jones was held. Robert was resident in a children’s home, and it was a police officer who told the inquest that he “was on medication for depression”. No further mention of this is made in the newspaper report, which ends with the sentence that “Coroner Peter Maddox said Robert had no signs of alcohol in his system and only a small amount of cannabis, not recent. He recorded a narrative verdict that Robert hanged himself.”

Another 2 days later, at the inquest of Christopher Ward, a police officer provided the information that 29 year-old Mr Ward “had been prescribed Citalopram for depression.” Even so, Coroner Peter Maddox declared that “blood and urine samples showed no drugs or alcohol in Mr Ward’s system.”

“There was a lack of anything in the system that would have altered his judgement, you would expect him to understand what he was doing and the consequences,” said Mr Maddox. “I can’t ignore the circumstances in which he was found, the toxicology results which suggests he was in control of his faculties.”

Mr Maddox recorded a verdict of suicide, thus completely ignoring the possibility that Citalopram may have “altered his judgement”.

LanaWilliamsThe final inquest report I found was that of 20 year-old mother Lana Williams (left). Her fiancé said she had seemed “in good spirits” when he had left the house for work that morning. A police officer reported that “although Miss Williams had suffered post-natal depression, for which she was still taking medication, there was no other history of mental health problems.” After hearing the evidence, “Coroner Peter Maddox said he thought an appropriate verdict was that Lana Williams took her own life.”

Re-visiting these inquests has left me extremely perplexed.

There are 3 people in an inquest who would know for sure whether antidepressants are involved in a suicide: the family doctor, who would, presumably, submit a report on the victim’s medical history, the pathologist, who performs the postmortem, and the coroner, who reads these documents.

It is, therefore, rather concerning that in these ten inquests, the pathologist reveals the existence of an antidepressant just once, as part of a “cocktail” of drugs taken. In another inquest, the source of the information is not reported and, in a third, the prescription of antidepressants is euphemistically referred to as “treatment”. In the remaining 7 inquests, the Police provide the information in 4 of the inquests, family members in the other 3.

It is also difficult to understand why the coroner refuses repeatedly to acknowledge that antidepressants can have played a part in affecting the victim’s state of mind prior to taking their life. By 2010, the link between antidepressants and suicide had been well-established, and it is reasonable to expect that all but the most negligent of coroners would be aware of this.

NatashaRandallI looked at other inquests in the Bridgend area around this time, including those of 17-year-old Natasha Randall (right), Zachary Barnes (17), Dale Crole (18), Lisa Dalton (24), Rhys Davies (23), Gareth Morgan (27), Andrew O’Neill (20), Allyn Price (24), Nathaniel Pritchard (15), Kelly Stephenson (20), Jason Williams (21), Anthony Martin (19)  and Sarah Williams (28). In these and others, I found that toxicology results were not fully reported. Significantly, I found no inquest reports where it was stated that psychiatric medication was not involved.

No valid reason was found at the time for the spate of suicides in the Bridgend area. From my research, I would suggest that one possible reason may have been over-prescription of antidepressants. Maybe some of the victims were encouraged to take antidepressants to keep them safe from the “epidemic”. If so, this would suggest that the coronial system may have been used to suppress the evidence. Some of Mr Maddox’s ill-informed statements would lend credence to this theory.

In summary, 13% of those who took their lives by hanging had been taking antidepressants, 0% were not on antidepressants, and the remaining 87% remain unknown. Perhaps it is time for a thorough inquiry while medical records are still accessible.

Bridgend

Related articles:

South Wales Suicides

Wales: The Missing Link

When is a Suicide not a Suicide?

 

10 Replies to “Bridgend: the antidepressant factor”

  1. Myself and Maria are working on a study along similar lines. Initial results are in and, it has to be said, are deeply disturbing with regard to the suicide/psychiatric medication link.

  2. My son killed himself 15 days after being prescribed prozac. His medical records clearly documented that the drug impaired his judgement and induced suicidal and homicidal thoughts. The Coroner made a finding of suicide and the recommendation that “children should take their medication as prescribed.”

    • You would expect that a pre-requisite of the post of coroner would be compassion. Unfortunately this is not always the case. To heap such insensitive behaviour on to someone so cruelly bereaved is totally inexcusable.

  3. There is a definitie link between SSRI’s and suicide. Just talk to most people who have been on Seroxat at some point in their lives. Great Web Site Brian. Keep up the good work. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment, Truthman. I should think that 1600 links between SSRI’s and suicide should make it impossible for anyone to deny the connection. Your own site is inspirational – keep on telling that Truth!

  4. Young people should not be given these drugs. My son was on Citalopram for only a couple of months, but the anxiety and aggressive behaviour it provoked was obvious. Luckily we helped him come off them gradually and responsibly, even though the doctor tried to get him back on them. I was very proud of him when he flatly refused. We pay for private counselling (CBT) now and it has done him a world of good. There is absolutely no way he will be going back on antidepressants. I hear similar stories from so many people whose children are on these dreadful drugs and who describe similar behaviour changes. Why won’t doctors listen? Does it really cost more for talking therapies than it does for useless drugs? No, but as long as doctors are in league with the drug companies things won’t change.

  5. While this whole series of incidences are tragic, they may not be abnormal statistically.
    There were only 9 suicides where there was any indication of prescription use related to the series of suicides in Bridgend, Wales. There have been over 79+ reported suicides in that area since 2007, not all of the people that had committed suicide had ever been on medication or consumed enough alcohol that would be considered judgement altering to the point of suicide.
    The majority of the people that had killed themselves were people with no prior ideation of suicide or declining trend towards suicide. There are no suicide notes, no farewell posts on Facebook, no links to suicide cults (internet or other).
    It seems suspicious to me that the police are not reporting accurate numbers, there appears to be a cover-up by the coroner as to the toxicology reports/ C.O.D.(suicide/narrative), and a lack of conditional research to rule out other possible causes that might explain why so many young people to end their lives.

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